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Tube Talk: Of ‘Orphans’ and ‘Men’

April 9, 2014
Mad-Men

By Paula Hendrickson
Contributing Writer

April 13 marks the beginning of the end of AMC’s network-defining series, Mad Men, but its final season will be divided into two parts, just as AMC did with Breaking Bad. That means Mad Men won’t actually end until 2015.

Breaking Bad’s creator, Vince Gilligan, famously said that series was about Walter White devolving from “Mr. Chips to Scarface,” but over on Mad Men, it could be argued that the journey of Don Draper (Jon Hamm) has been about him simultaneously avoiding and seeking his identity. Who is Don Draper, other than a master pitchman?

At the end of last season, Don didn’t exactly embrace his past as Dick Whitman, but he stopped struggling so hard to hide it. He even took his kids to see the now-empty brothel he was raised in. For Don Draper/Dick Whitman, that was a major step. But how far did he go in acknowledging the past he’s worked so hard to hide? I hope we find out when the new season opens.

Last season ended badly for Don. His ad agency partners placed him on an extended leave; his marriage was in tatters; his relationship with his daughter was shattered; and his mistress dumped him. Despite things collapsing around him (which was nobody’s fault but his own), it felt as if Don ended the season freer than ever.

Dick Whitman made a new life and rose from poverty to riches by assuming the identity of Don Draper. Could another fresh start allow Dick/Don to finally put his inner demons to rest and find some modicum of happiness? Mad Men creator Mathew Weiner is so secretive about his plans that we’ll have to watch and see where Don — and all of the other characters — wind up.

Don’s a multi-faceted character, but on BBC America’s breakout series, Orphan Black, Tatiana Maslany plays multiple characters, all part of a human cloning experiment that has anti-cloning extremists trying to kill them and the scientists who created them trying to control them. Oh, and a deadly lung ailment is plaguing some clones.

Confused? No problem. BBC America is airing a season one recap special April 12, Orphan Black: The Cloneversation. It includes cast members discussing the first season and offers a sneak peak at season two. Even if you’ve seen every episode of Orphan Black, you might want a quick refresher to help keep the clones straight.

While plot twists come rapidly on this smart, sci-fi show, the real reason people should tune in is to watch Maslany’s tour de force performances (plural). Not only has she given each clone an individual voice, tics and mannerisms, she often plays two or more characters in a single scene.

In the first season, Maslany played English foster kid Sarah Manning (who’s also pretending to be Beth, a dead clone who was a police detective); buttoned-down homemaker Alison; brainy science student Cosima; Helena, a psychotic clone raised in a fundamentalist convent and trained to kill her fellow clones; German clone Katja; and corporate clone-in-heels Rachael, who was introduced at the end of season one.

By then, Helena and Katja were both dead, Cosima’s health had worsened, Alison struck a deal with the clone masters, and Sarah’s daughter, Kira, went missing. All that, and Kira’s the only character mentioned above who wasn’t played by Maslany. (Maslany is great, but there are other wonderful actors on the series as well.)

Mad Men and Orphan Black may be very different series, but both shows prove one thing: Whether it’s one man with separate identities or several women sharing the same DNA — character counts.

Programming notes

Orphan Black: The Cloneversation airs Saturday, April 12, at 7 p.m. Central on BBC America.

Orphan Black season two premiere, Saturday, April 19, at 8 p.m. Central on BBC America.

Mad Men season seven premiere, Sunday, April 13, at 9 p.m. on AMC

Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, Television Week and TVGuide. Follow her on Twitter at P_Hendrickson and send your suggestions to tubetalking-paula@yahoo.com.

Posted April 9, 2014

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